OPINION | What makes a person shy or socially anxious?

TIA SMITH
Opinion Columnist

There has been a time in many of our lives where we felt so nervous or scared that we wish having the power to disappear was possible. Situations can become awkward, tense or even depressing, but being shy or suffering from anxiety has nothing to do with the basic emotions humans feel on a regular basis.

I experience that feeling whenever I’m surrounded by a large group of people. No matter how much I want the feeling of thinking people are staring at me or judging me to go away, it never does.

All my life, I’ve been classified as a shy, timid person and I’ve been okay with that title because I’ve always believed it was true.

As I dug into what shyness and social phobia really means, I’ve concluded that I may have a little bit of both; more so, social phobia. A lot of people tend to mix up shyness with social anxiety/phobia, but to be honest, the two are completely different even though a few of the symptoms are similar.

From personal experience, I can say I’m often judged by people I know and even people I’ve never spoken to a day in my life. Just because I don’t say much in a conversation, just because I’m not loud, just because I stay away from large crowds, and just because I can’t keep eye contact with others for long, that somehow makes me strange or different.

I hate when people judge me, which is why being educated on why a person is shy or has social phobia/anxiety and the difference between the two is important.

Social Anxiety Disorder (social phobia) is the third largest mental health care problem in the world today, while shyness affects more than half of the people in the world, according to the Social Anxiety Association.

Both are completely different and yet similar in some ways. What we can learn from shy people is that behind all the shyness, they’re outgoing and they can only be themselves when getting to know a person who they feel they can trust.

As for someone who has social phobia, making friends and putting their trust into others is hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

What I encourage people to do is to get to know someone who seems quiet or out of place in a social situation. Judging someone from one glance or encounter only makes the other person feel worse, and thereby increases the feelings that come with being shy or having social phobia.

A new friend may come out of getting to know that person. Not only that, but I hope people will stop diagnosing others with shyness because it may be social anxiety, and that person will probably just settle with the title “shy” for the rest of their lives. Who knows? It could be deeper than just shyness. Knowing exactly what makes us tick could be the reason for a positive turn around in the future.

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